96 What Is Sociology The word sociology comes from the Latin, socius (companion) and the Greek ology (study of. Sociology is the study of human behaviour in society. Sociologists are interested in the study of people and have learned a fundamental lesson all human behaviour occurs in societal context. That context – the institutions and culture that surround us – shapes what people do and think. The discipline itself has an ambivalent genealogy and a controversial recent history as the newest of the social science. Historically, the word itself was first used by Auguste Compte. In the aftermath of industrial revolution and consequent political upheavals we can seethe concern with society as such as a direct object of study. In Compte’s work sociology was to be the highest achievement of science, producing knowledge of the laws of the social world, equivalent to our knowledge of the laws of nature. In its present form, sociology embraces a range of different views concerning both what asocial science should comprise and what might be the proper subject-matter of sociology in particular. There are three general conceptions of the object of sociological interest. The first states that the proper object of sociology is social structure, in the sense of patterns of relationships which have an independent existence, over and above the individuals and the groups that occupy positions in these structures. There are two main versions of this approach Marxism, which conceptualizes the structures of modes of production, and Parsonian structural-functionalism which identifies systems, subsystems and role structures. A second perspective deems the proper object of sociology to lie in something that we might call, with Durkheim, collective representations: meanings and ways of cognitively organizing the world which have a continued existence over and above the individuals who are socialized into them. Much modern structuralist and postmodernist work (in particular discourse- analysis) can be seen as apart of this tradition. Finally, there are those for whom the proper object of sociological attention is meaningful social action, in the sense intended by Max Weber. The implicit or explicit assumption behind this approach is that there is no such thing as society merely individuals and groups entering into social relationships with each other. An education in sociology can help you think logically and analytically about society and its problems. Key concepts of sociological view are social structure, social institution, social change and social interaction. Social structures are organized patterns of social relationships and social institutions that together constitute society. Social structure is not a thing but refers to the fact that social forces, not always visible to the human eye, guide and shape human behaviour.
97 Social institutions are defined as established and organized systems of social behaviour with a particular and recognized purpose. The family, religion, marriage, government, and the economy are examples of major social institutions. Sociologists are also interested in social change – the alterations of society overtime. Sociologists view society as both stable, but constantly changing. Sociologists see social interaction as behaviour between two or more people that is given meaning. Through social interaction people react and change, depending on the actions and reactions of others. Society results from social interaction thus people are active agents in what society becomes. Sociological research derives from the scientific method, meaning that it relies on empirical observation, and, sometimes, the testing of hypothesis. The research process involves several steps developing a research question, cre- ating a research design, collecting data, analyzing the data, developing con- clusions and reporting results. Different designs are appropriate to different questions, but sociologists have to be concerned about the validity, reliability and generalization of their studies. There are several tools or techniques sociologists use to gather data. Among the most widely used are survey research and interviews, participant observation, controlled experiment, content analy- sis, comparative and historical research. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Surveys, for example, tend to be more generalizable than participant observation, but they are unable to capture the subtle nuances in social behaviour and its meaning that participant observation can. Although no research in any field can always be value free, sociological research nonetheless strives for objectivity while recognizing that the values of the research may have some influence on the work. There are ethical considerations in doing sociological research, such as whether one should collect data without letting research subjects (people) know they are being observed. Sociology is sometimes seen, at least by sociologists, as a queen of the social sciences, bringing together and extending the knowledge and insights of all the other adjacent disciplines. People often hold degrees in sociology and work with sociological skills. They can be employed as lecturers in colleges and universities, as researchers in research centers, in government positions, private organizations and public agencies. Sociologists have an important role in education, in community and public services, and in the development of public policy.